Through a Glass Darkly by Chris Green
I find it odd that no one is in the library. It is Monday. The middle of the morning. You would expect it to be busy. It is the main library in Middleton, not just a branch. Here are no notices. The shelves are organised in an orderly manner and seem to be well-stocked. What is wrong? Where are the readers? I go across to the fiction section and take down a copy of Through a Glass Darkly, the new novel by Paulo de Santos that I have been looking out for. I open it, and to my puzzlement, the book contains nothing but blank pages. Why would you have a book on the shelves that contains no words? Is it some kind of a prank? I make my way through other books on the shelf and find that none of them has words. Something is badly wrong. The covers and the spines are set out exactly as you would expect to find them in alphabetical, but inside the pages are blank. The books on the other shelves are the same. Nothing but blank pages. Someone has apparently stolen all the words.
Stephanie King, the librarian is unable to shed any light on what might have happened. She too is at a loss. The word theft took place over the weekend when the library was closed. Stephanie says she is waiting for detectives to arrive to carry out an investigation. She had been on the telephone to them when I passed by the desk, otherwise, she would have been able to spare me the shocking discovery of the blank pages. She has told others who came in that the library is closed for the day. She had been about to put a sign on the door.
It is a mystery worthy of a place on the 823.92 shelf, she says, laughing. Not knowing what shelf 823.92 references, her humour is lost on me. Perhaps I am being unfair, but I can’t help but feel she might be treating the matter too lightly. It seems to me we have stepped into the twilight zone.
Unusual crimes clearly require unconventional policing methods, and Django is a curious kind of policeman. He wears a tangerine suit and is built like a Russian war memorial. A large Savannah cat perches on his shoulder. Django’s accent is impossible to place but seems to come from a distant place. I am too far away to be able to follow what he says, but luckily, Stephanie seems to understand him. Perhaps it is part of a librarian’s training to become au fait with strange dialects. Meanwhile, Django’s oppo corners me and starts chatting. He introduces himself as Baz. No title. No formality. Just Baz. He is wearing ripped blue jeans and a black Defund the Police t-shirt. This seems an odd getup for an officer of the law. Perhaps I am too used to TV detective stereotypes. Not too many of them have Sideshow Bob haircuts like this fellow has. What an odd pair!
Baz seems to imagine I work at the library. I do nothing to correct him or offer my name. He doesn’t seem to care. Perhaps he feels overshadowed by his larger-than-life boss and is eager to get in on the act.
‘Words disappearing like this might seem strange, dude,’ he says. ‘But it is by no means an isolated incident. Last week someone made off with all the colour from the Grace Garland Gallery, where there was an exhibition of paintings by Lada Riva, the Lithuanian Post-Impressionist. The colourful paintings on display were reduced to greyscale. The following day, all the notes from Franz Ziegler’s new symphony mysteriously disappeared. It was about to receive its premiere at the Millbrook Music Festival. The musicians were tuning up and suddenly there were no notes. All gone. No music to play.’
‘Embarrassing,’ I say.
‘And then on a busy Friday afternoon, all the numbers inexplicably vanished from Roughborough station,’ he says with an unwarranted smirk. ‘How about that, man? No numbers. A major railway terminus doesn’t function well without numbers. The disappearance was hushed up of course, but you can imagine the chaos it caused.’
‘Indeed,’ I say.
‘The work of anarchists, ‘ he says.
‘Almost certainly,’ I say, Should I mention his t-shirt, I wonder? Probably best not to.’
‘These guerilla acts are connected, wouldn’t you say?’ he says.
‘More corporate these days. Big organisations behind it.’
‘Must be tough for you.’
‘For sure, but the government has finally recognised scificrimes are a threat to life as we know it and has started to throw money at us. Increased our funding by a few noughts to crack down on them.’
‘This reminds me of a story my old friend, Ron told me,’ I say, thinking it might be the only way to shut Baz up. ‘About an outfit he worked for that smuggled packets of time out of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Poor Ron got into a bit of trouble as I recall. Never did have much luck, Ron. They called him Wet Blanket Ron because he was so negative. He dined out on tales of misfortune and how bad things were going to be. Someone told me Ron recently died in prison. Don’t know if that’s right, but I haven’t heard from him for a while. Anyway, the investigating officer, if I remember correctly, was called Crooner.’
‘Crooner was put out to pasture a while back, dude,’ Baz says. ‘He is yesterday’s man. He was too parochial for this line of work. He couldn’t hack it. None of them could, him, Boss, Billy Hats, or any of the others. And things are much grittier these days.’
Having looked over a few shelves, Django and Stephanie come across to join us. Stephanie introduces me and tells him I am not a library employee. Django doesn’t seem much concerned. I think he has decided his work is done here.
‘There are greater matters at stake,’ he says. ‘What has happened here at the library is just the tip of the iceberg. Words have been disappearing all over.’
‘This is the age we live in, I’m afraid, guys,’ Baz says. ‘More and more unlikely things, that once wouldn’t have been possible, are now possible. Think it and you can probably do it. History itself is disappearing before our eyes. Voom! Vanishing, no trace, it never happened. History has already disappeared from many important museums and universities.’
‘Science too is under threat,’ Django says. ‘Excuse me.’
He takes a call on his mobile device, moves the cat from one shoulder to the other, and prepares to leave.
Baz seems to want to keep chatting.
‘It’s not just science, history, and art that are disappearing,’ he says. ‘Knowledge will soon be a thing of the past. Look out, guys! Nothing is coming to a world near you soon.’
‘Cut the spiel, Baz,’ Django says. ‘It’s time to go. We’re out of here. We have work to do …… We’ll be in touch, Stephanie.’
‘Or not,’ Baz says, under his breath. ‘Sorry. I didn’t catch your name, fella. Anyway, look out! It’s not going to be the way you like it for much longer. Could be your friend, Ron, may have been onto something with his tales of doom and gloom. Things are definitely beginning to fall apart. It will get worse, trust me. The world is in serious decline. But you never know what form it is going to take. Expect the unexpected.’
‘Get a move on, Baz,’ Django says. ‘This one is a biggie. Metaphors have started to break down. When the words business started, I wondered when this might happen. It was only a question of time. It’s started at the top, though, right in the seat of government. The Leader of the House has turned into a dinosaur and is now too bulky to get out through the door of the chamber, and the cabinet have become donkeys and are grazing on the grounds outside parliament. We have to get along there, PDQ. Although we might be too late. It’s probably all over the news channels by now. You didn’t vote for this lot, did you, Baz?’
‘No point in voting for any of them, is there, boss? As you are always telling me, politicians are powerless in the post-truth world. There are darker forces at work.’
‘We only see the world through a glass darkly.’
‘That’s the one boss, whatever that means.’
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved